Primary Source Adventures
The Path to Revolution
This Primary Source Adventure examines the events preceding the Texas Revolution. Students will examine Anglo Texans’ relationship with the Mexican government and how they viewed Santa Anna.
To explore this time period, sources are selected from Homer S. Thrall's A Pictorial History of Texas, and Chester Newell's History of the Revolution in Texas. By completing this lesson, learners will gain an understanding of the political foundation and the underlying conflicts which set the stage for the Texas Revolution. Learners may also be surprised at how Texans initially viewed Santa Anna.
Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures.
The Path to Revolution
by Vale Fitzpatrick
By the beginning of the 1820s Anglo-American immigration to Texas had increased significantly, to the consternation of Mexico. The Mexican Government had concerns that immigrants from the United States were not loyal and was scheming to have Texas annexed by the United States. Manuel de Mier y Terán, who was a cabinet member to Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria, in 1825 began to call for inspection tours to determine the condition of Texas. In November 1827, Mier y Terán departed Mexico to officially survey their national boundary with the United States. In reality his objective was to report on the situation in Texas and make recommendations the government could use to curtail Anglo-American influence and preserve Texas as a Mexican province. He returned to Mexico City in January 1829. His report found Mexico’s hold on Texas increasingly tenuous, especially east of San Antonio. Terán’s report concluded that unless Anglo-American colonization contracts in Texas were stopped and Mexico’s control of the region strengthened, the province would be lost.
On 6 April 1830, President Anastacio Bustamente’s government prohibited all immigration from the United States, ended all empresario contracts, outlawed the transportation of slaves into Texas, and called for the collection of long neglected customs duties. These laws infuriated Anglo-Americans in Texas, while most Mexican government officials considered these laws essential to preserving the province. Many Tejanos joined their Anglo neighbors in opposing the law of 6 April 1830, concurrently most Anglos differentiated the Mexican government, the subject of their ire, from their Tejano neighbors.
Initially Anglo-Texans hoped lobbying would overturn these laws, but by 1832 this hope was gone. Mexico sent additional troops to Texas garrisoning San Antonio, Goliad, and Nacogdoches while constructing new forts at strategic points, Velasco and Anahuac. There after Mexican authorities began enforcing long neglected trade duties violence became inevitable. At Anahuac, located near the mouth of the Trinity River on Galveston Bay, the matter erupted into outright violence in 1831 when the Mexican government required ship captains to travel a one hundred and forty mile round trip by land to pay duties on their cargos. As a result many captains ignored the rules and left-exchanging gunfire with the garrison as they went.
In June 1832 the situation escalated when runaway slaves from Louisiana arrived at Anahuac and Colonel Juan Davis Bradburn enlisted them in the Mexican garrison. A slave catcher from Louisiana hired law partners William Barret Travis and Patrick Jack to retrieve the escaped slaves. After failing to acquire the slaves through legal redress they attempted a bluff: informing Colonel Bradburn that a Louisianan force of one hundred fifty to two hundred men was marching to reclaim the escaped slaves. They were promptly arrested and held without trial. In response a group of more than one hundred and fifty Anglos gathered and marched on Anahuac capturing the Mexican cavalry contingent of Colonel Bradburn’s garrison. They offered to exchange these men for Travis and Jack. Col. Bradburn accepted the offer, but after his men were returned he refused to release his prisoners. The situation escalated as the Texan force sent out the call for reinforcements to rescue the prisoners by force of arms. While the Texans’ actions were plainly rebellious, they were saved from charges of treason by a concurrent event in Mexico City. General Antonio López de Santa Anna had won a significant victory for the Federalists in the ongoing revolt against the centralist government of Anastasio Bustamente.
The Anglo-Texans, on 12 June 1832, adopted the Turtle Bayou Resolutions, which stated they were not attacking a Mexican garrison, but that they were Federalists opposing the unlawful actions of Centralist Colonel Bradburn. The resolution further stated that they wished to return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and urged all Texans to support the Federalists fighting under Santa Anna against the dictatorial Bustamante government. A copy of this resolution was delivered to federalist Colonel José de las Piedras, commander of the Mexican forces at Fort Nacogdoches, who arrived with troops to put down the revolt. The Turtle Bayou Resolutions coupled with assurances by Texan leaders satisfied Colonel Piedras who removed Colonel Bradburn from command and freed Travis and Jack. Shortly thereafter the soldiers at Anahuac declared support for Santa Anna and sailed for Mexico. This had the added benefit of ending Mexico’s commerce taxes at the port for the next three years. By mid 1832 Anglo-Americans acting in the name of Santa Anna’s Federalist revolt drove Mexican troops from Texas except for garrisons at San Antonio and Goliad.
In the latter half of 1832 a convention held at San Antonio established a committee in each municipality of Texas, crafted documents which pushed for recognition of Texas as a separate state from Coahuila, called for exemption from customs duties for three years, and urged that the ban on immigration from the United States be lifted. The convention also proclaimed loyalty to Mexico and the Constitution of 1824. The authorities in Mexico viewed such acts with great suspicion.
By January 1833 Santa Anna’s Federalist faction had won the civil war and he assumed control over the Mexican government as the elected president. He promptly retired to his ranch, under the Mexican constitution once the president left the capital district the Vice-President, in this case Valentín Gómez Farías, an ardent Federalist, became acting president. In Texas, at the behest of Stephen F. Austin, a San Antonio petition was endorsed by assemblies in Goliad, San Felipe, and Nacogdoches requesting that the Mexican government change its position on immigration from the United States and recognize Texas as an independent state.
Despite a pleasant reception by acting president Farías, the recognition of Texas stalled in the Mexican Congress, and the capital was shortly thereafter devastated by a cholera epidemic. Stephen F. Austin was afflicted with the disease and barely survived. Austin succeeded in persuading the Mexican Congress to repeal the ban on immigration from the United States. However, he was stymied on all other issues. A frustrated Austin wrote an incautious letter to the ayuntamiento of San Antonio recommending the organization of a local Texas government separate from Coahuila and closed the letter with the words God and Texas instead of the traditional God and Liberty. His letter came to the attention of Mexican authorities and upon his return to Texas he was arrested in Saltillo on 3 January 1834 under the suspicion of trying to incite insurrection in Texas. He was returned to Mexico City, where he was jailed for twenty-eight months despite no charges being brought against him. Texan’s attitude towards the Mexican government soured with Austin’s imprisonment.
Acting-President Valentín Gómez Farías proved amiable to many of the requests of Texas citizens. English was made an official language of the province; citizens received the right to trial by jury, and were allowed to buy land directly from the government. However, many in the Mexican government were not pleased with these changes and in 1834 sent another investigator, Colonel Juan Nepomunceno Almonte, to report on the conditions in Texas. His report found the number of Anglos ever increasing and his findings suggested that stability would be difficult to maintain in Texas.
However, the ambitious Santa Anna had carefully tracked the growing political discontent among the traditional power structures with acting-President Farías democratic reforms in Mexico. Santa Anna crafted a plan to seize power. The Mexican Army and Church were greatly irritated by the elimination of their historic privileges such as: special courts, and mandatory tithing to the church. Santa Anna recognized his chance and declared his allegiance to the centralists while claiming absolute power for himself.
In April 1835 Santa Anna returned to Mexico City and took power from Vice-President Gómez. Santa Anna reconstituted the congress which he stacked with centralists under his authority. He then abolished the Constitution of 1824 and then abolished the state governments—giving control to ayuntamientos he appointed. By October 1835, Santa Anna had achieved dictatorial control over Mexico. These actions came as a surprise to many Anglo—Texans who had known Santa Anna remembered him as a defender of the Constitution of 1824 and staunch federalist. Texans now saw Santa Anna as a tyrannical aggressor. Their belief was confirmed when he brutally suppressed the federalist revolt in the Mexican state of Zacatecas.
Santa Anna sent General Martín Perfecto de Cos to disperse the legislature of Coahuila and Texas. Additionally General Cos was charged with arresting Travis, Williams, Lorenzo de la Zavala, other “troublemakers.” He occupied San Antonio—designating it as his army headquarters. Hostilities between Mexican forces and Texans began in early October 1835 when Texans at Gonzales refused to hand over their cannon to Mexican troops daring them to “come and take it.” The Texas revolution had begun.